Friday December 25, 1998
Amid the traditional year-end deluge of prestige pictures, a smart, lively and unpretentious exploitation picture is always a welcome treat.
And that's exactly the pleasure of seeing "The Faculty," a rip-roaring collaboration between director Robert Rodriguez and writer Kevin Williamson. It's a consistently funny and clever teen horror flick that in the Williamson "Scream" tradition of hip references to old films also offers nods to "The Thing," "Forbidden Planet" and "The Puppet Masters." Be assured that the filmmakers fill the screen with organisms a bit more active and grotesque than "The Body Snatchers' " famously ominous pods.
This well-crafted film plugs into universal teenage fears and emotions: Whoever made it through high school without either feeling one's self or everybody else to be an alien? "The Faculty" even sends an implicit message about the value of disparate kids needing to pull together and really using their heads if, in this instance, humanity is to survive.
After all, the aliens are out there trying to lure the young people with the promise of a fearless, eternally successful and glamorous life--but at the price of a total loss of emotion.
In adapting a story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel, Williamson draws six sharply defined roles for young people and an equal number for their elders, and Rodriguez elicits from one and all succinct, on-the-money performances. Jordana Brewster's Delilah is the school's top girl, and don't you forget it. When her likable football star boyfriend Stan (Shawn Hatosy) reveals he wants to quit the team and buckle down to his books, she threatens to dump him as bad for her image. Delilah also hurls homophobic epithets to Clea Duvall's Stokely, a sullen but very smart outsider, simply because she's a nonconformist. (Teen sexual insecurities typically breed homophobia, but you wish the filmmakers could have suggested that it's not a cool thing to feel or express.)
Laura Harris' blond Marybeth is the new girl in school, desperate to make friends and feel as if she belongs, and Josh Hartnett is another bright kid who wastes his time and brains selling drugs out of his car trunk. The film's true star and hero is Elijah Wood as Casey, a brilliant, nice-looking youth who's picked on simply because he's smaller than the school's bullies. Casey and Stokely are the first students to join forces and to dare to use their knowledge and imagination to figure out what's going on.
Christopher McDonald plays Casey's thuggish father and is among a solid lineup of prominent actors cast in the film's adult roles. "The Faculty's" faculty boasts no less than Piper Laurie as the drama teacher; Bebe Neuwirth as the principal; Salma Hayek as the school nurse; Famke Jannsen as a drab, insecure English teacher; Jon Stewart as the biology teacher; and Robert Patrick as the school's notably ferocious football coach. Filmed in and around Austin, Texas, and boasting solid special effects, "The Faculty" easily makes the grade.
The Faculty, 1998. MPAA-rated: R, for violence/gore, strong language, drug use and some nudity. A Dimension Films presentation of a Los Hooligans production. Director-editor Robert Rodriguez. Producer Elizabeth Avellan. Executive producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. Screenplay Kevin Williamson; from a story by David Wechter & Bruce Kimmel. Cinematographer Enrique Chediak. Music Marco Beltrami. Costumes Michael T. Boyd. Production designer Cary White. Visual effects supervisor Brian M. Jennings. Special makeup and creatures effect by KNB-EFX. Art director Ed Vega. Set decorator Jeanette Scott. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Jordana Brewster as Delilah. Clea DuVall as Stokely. Laura Harris as Marybeth. Josh Hartnett as Zeke. Shawn Hatosy as Stan. Elijah Wood as Casey.